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Safety at the border

Mandy Patinkin and Cindy McCain in conversation: ‘Seeking asylum is a human right’

Actor and IRC Ambassador Mandy Patinkin and businesswoman and philanthropist Cindy McCain recently visited the International Rescue Committee's welcome center in Phoenix, Arizona, where the IRC and its local partners are providing food, water, basic medical assistance, legal counseling, clothing and overnight shelter to Central American and other asylum-seeking families who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to seek safety. 

Mandy and Cindy sat down to talk about the need for the U.S. to remain a safe haven for people escaping violence and persecution.

Mandy Patinkin: Well, I know you’ve been doing this for quite some time, if not your whole life, with your husband [the late Sen. John McCain], and you live in Arizona. What are you seeing that has changed and improved? And what are you seeing that hasn’t improved and that people are ignoring?

Cindy McCain: Well, in my opinion, things have greatly improved because you have centers like this, you have processing, you have dignity. People are still winding up in detention— you heard the stories about what's going on—but I think the understanding now is that this issue is greatly different from what it was.

Mandy Patinkin: What do you mean?

Cindy McCain: [Newcomers] are the fiber of what our state is all about, and we welcome them. Some people from around the country may not understand this and the importance of it. So I think that [organizations] like the IRC have changed the dialogue about what's going on … and also that safety in caring for these folks is a concern.

Mandy Patinkin: Resilience shows.

Mandy Patinkin and Cindy McCain at IRC welcome center in Phoenix, Arizona

Mandy Patinkin and Cindy McCain visit the the ropa (clothing) room where families can find new clothes and shoes, toiletries, baby supplies, and other essential items— even books to read.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Cindy McCain: I mean, it’s amazing. But I also think that it’s imperative that you, me and others in this arena understand what’s actually going on. This is a crisis, but we need these people. They make our country what it is. You and I both live very privileged lives, and it could change like that.  

Mandy Patinkin: We wouldn't have had this opportunity if our ancestors weren’t welcomed in this country...

Cindy McCain: I completely agree.

Mandy Patinkin: ...so we could have everything that we give to our beautiful grandchildren.

Cindy McCain: Exactly.

Mandy Patinkin: It is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I don't know how [people] can turn their backs on other people who are in desperate need of rescue and a new beginning, especially from war and violence. And to see what, you know, this community in Phoenix is doing, what you’re doing...

 Mandy Patinkin speaks with a family who fled from Mexico at IRC welcome center in Phoenix, Arizona
Mandy Patinkin speaks with a family who fled from Mexico. Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Cindy McCain: I made a special effort to go down to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. The violence these people are fleeing is not only real, it’s devastating. They're fleeing for their lives. Turning our backs on them is un-American, in my opinion. I think we need to do way more than what we are doing.… I also think that that human dignity is the basis of why we’re here.

Mandy Patinkin: It’s not to be taken for granted. 

Cindy McCain: No, it's a basic human right.… I was born here, on the border. I've lived my entire adult life right here in Arizona, raised my family here. Hispanic culture is part of our DNA. And it’s also part of our fiber in this state.… I wouldn’t want to live in any place that didn't [embrace other cultures], because I grow from that and my family grows from that. I mean, you and I never had to flee our homes. I cannot imagine the courage, and the dignity and respect that people have when they must flee.

Mandy Patinkin: We all want the same thing. We all want a roof over our heads for our families, our kids, food in everybody’s mouth, good medical care and a good education and opportunity. And I don’t think you’re going to go anywhere in the world where everybody doesn’t want that.

Cindy McCain: You know, I ultimately believe in the good nature of human beings.

Mandy Patinkin with IRC staff member Alex Cruz

Mandy meets Alex Cruz, the IRC’s shelter specialist at the welcome center. “They have such amazing stories,” said Alex about the families she’s met. “They will teach us how to be strong, how to work and how to go through struggles in ways that we have not seen.”

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Mandy Patinkin: I do, too.

*The transcript was edited for clarity and length

The IRC's work

In the U.S., the IRC is helping meet asylum seekers’ basic needs, connecting them to legal and mental health support, and reuniting families. The IRC is also supporting local partners in Mexico to aid migrants and asylum seekers stuck in border towns, and supporting programs that work with women and girls who have experienced violence by increasing access to services such as medical care. Donate today to support our work